LIP Archaeological Building Investigations: about participating


This information will be updated ASAP, and for the moment provides background details to the pilot study.

A pdf version of this page (and a shorter version) to print or download is available at the bottom of the page.

Project case study ‘No. 8’: late 19th century 2/3 bedroom terraced house


Why participate and contribute?

Britain has a rich and varied history that can be found as much in the ‘familiar’ pasts that surrounds us, as in the ancient, grand, and spectacular elements of the historic environment that more usually command public attention. But evidence relating to ‘ordinary’ life in the late 19th – early 20th century is increasingly lost as we modify our surrounding to more suitably accommodate modern needs. What was once commonplace is becoming extraordinary; yet these remains are integral to the various histories that in combination provide the backdrop to modern society. These fragments from the past represent both the conditions of everyday life inhabited by previous generations, and the material traces of their thoughts and actions combined through personal and collective experience. By studying these remains, we may both reanimate a past that, though seemingly remote and irrelevant, is a part of us all. The discovery of evidence for ‘other’ lifestyles that are distant in time, but connected in space, may encourage us to reflect upon, and further understand, our own outlooks on life.

Possible Edwardian childhood graffiti on a wall in the back yard of ‘No. 8’

Public and community collaboration

Within the remit of the project, residents may be able to carry out many aspects of archaeological building investigation independently: LIP aims to support participants in basic and simple surveys, and in sharing the resultant information.  External sources of information on performing basic surveys are available via the project website, and project-specific guides for residents will soon be available.

The following information provides an outline of what may happen in the case of guided building surveys, and where residents / householders would prefer, or give permission for (a) Team Member(s) to carry out a survey. In some cases (such as houses that remained largely unaltered over the course of the 20th century), it may be particularly useful if residents and owners might grant (a) Team Member(s) access to examine and record such evidence in the light of specialist knowledge.

What area does the project currently cover, and what housing is of interest to the project?

Building investigations will survey housing dating to before the end of the Second World War in Britain (1945). If unsure whether or not your home falls within this category, guidance on how to estimate the age of domestic buildings will be available through the project website (or by contacting the project).

So that Team Members might more easily support householders in undertaking Building Investigations and Surveys (taking into consideration limited funding and time), for the moment at least, householders that may require support should be located within the Catchment Area. 

Is my home old enough?

Historic maps can be accessed at Local Studies Libraries or online (e.g., or enter your postcode to see changes to your local area). Some online census records are searchable by address (e.g., and may also be accessible through local studies libraries. If accessed from home, there is a charge to view records; however, it is usually free to search: this should indicate the presence of housing 1841 – 1911 (but be aware that streets names may change over time, and that the census only records occupied buildings).

 Is my home of the right type?

Late 19th century terraced housing

Terraced Housing

The small terraced house – a form of building recognisable without specialist knowledge (see the cover photo, and right) is most likely to provide the bulk of evidence for the project, considering the continued occupation of such houses today.[2]

Social Housing

Houses and flats built by Local Authorities (‘Council Housing’), and Charitable Trusts, before the end of WWII are also of interest. However, their approximate date of construction is often less obvious when compared to terraced housing. The previous page provides information on some ways to date your home; more information will be provided soon; alternatively, contact the project for advice, providing of a post-code and house number, and preferably an exterior photo of the property.

Larger houses

Larger housing might also be of interest. Many urban houses were divided into tenements, providing homes for several families; and larger houses often housed domestic servants. Census returns (see previous page) will usually record the presence of live-in domestic staff; in addition, sometime material indicators occasionally survive, in the form of call bells and indicator boxes (see photos below). The investigation of larger houses may also provide insights with regard to social mobility, as well as in providing comparisons with smaller housing.

         Domestic servant call bell (above) and box (below) that has survived previous phases of modernisation: in a large suburban house dating to the late 1920s – early 1930s [3]

LIP archaeological building surveys and investigations: preliminary information

Procedures for arranging a team-guided survey

If you live within the catchment area and would like to participate within LIP through a team-guided survey (or would like to provide permission for (a) LIP Team Member(s) to investigate your home (or part of your home) in order to collect data for the purposes of research or education), firstly, contact the Project Director. Enquiries should include the post-code and house number or name (e.g. 8/De1 3RT); the street name would also help, along with a brief description of the housing, and the general location. This information will enable (a) Team Member(s) to examine historic maps and documents before building investigations commence, which will provide brief background history for the building, and enable preparations to be more effective.

LIP aims to support participants in taking an active role in collecting, interpreting, and disseminating information; it also aims to make guided surveys enjoyable and informative for all concerned. Therefore, if householders are uncomfortable with Team Members surveying particular rooms or spaces, such as bedrooms and cupboards, it may be helpful to mention this when arranging the survey, as this will inform organisation of the survey. If (a) Team Member(s) plan to carry out a brief survey, and prepare (the) householder(s) to complete their own full survey, this may take between 1-2 hours (it might be possible to split this into several sessions, depending on the distance of the property from the project base in Derby). If Team Members are to carry out the entire survey, this process may take upwards of an afternoon (more commonly a working day), and so may have to be undertaken in a series of sessions.

For those who would rather carry out unaided surveys to collect data for the project, instructions for householders to will soon be available: see the Archaeological Resources Page for further details, or contact the project for guidelines.

What happens during LIP building surveys and investigations?

Above: modern cupboard interior in ‘No. 8’ (for more information on this house, see the project website), showing the presence of early (late 19th – early 20th century) blue ‘fly-repellent’ paint, and the plain original wall surface (which is likely to have always been papered). The skirting board finish demonstrates the presence of a cupboard in the past.

Investigations usually begin with a quick ‘walk-over’ survey of the house, to gain a general impression of the building as a whole. It may be useful to sketch rough plans and measurements of the building, its rooms, and significant features (and their position within rooms); this will incorporate (or be followed by) analysis of the form and fabric of the building, examining signs for changes made since construction. Team Members will guide residents in looking for signs of early activity, Surfaces – primarily walls, but sometimes floors – will be examined, to determine traces of earlier features through modern finishes.[4] (It may be possible to see or feel the location and approximate shape or earlier fixtures and fittings – such as fireplaces and gas-lamps – through later wallpaper and paint, as the plaster or cement fill of the spaces left by their removal is rarely completely flush with the wall. Early ‘quarry’ tiles or floorboards can also sometimes be seen through carpeting and vinyl floor covering.)

Chimney-breast in the front room of ‘No. 8’. Digital enhancement of the lower part of this photo (the grey area) highlights the approximate size and shape of fireplace, removed before 2000.

 Team Members and residents will together look for early 20th century modifications, which may include changes to utilities, such as the introduction of electricity supplies, or stylistic transformations, such as the replacement of doors and their fittings. There may also be occasional opportunities, without causing damage, to discover previous decorative schemes: for example, existing chips to paintwork, or eroded wallpaper, may expose earlier finishes; the remains of old paint can often be found on the underside of window frames; and sometimes it is possible to see old wallpaper behind radiators. (Unless owners permit, investigation will not involve destruction of building fabric or décor; if owners wish to consider more intrusive investigations, this might involve, for instance, the removal of small areas of wallpaper, or of small samples of plaster or paint from out-of-sight locations, or lifting carpets to see the floor surface beneath.)

Several layers of earlier paint on a pine bedroom door at ‘No. 8’; these have survived the attempts to strip the door back to wood before 2000.

A range of photographs (and sometimes sketches) of historically interesting and significant features and contexts will be taken. Interior photos commonly include: room layouts and the position of features within rooms; doors, windows, chimney-breasts and fireplaces; walls, ceilings, and floors; architraves, skirting boards, cornice, dado and picture rails; original and old fittings and utilities; and existing scuffs to walls and paint that might reveal earlier finishes).

1930s door handle in  earlier lock, ‘No. 8’

Outdoor photos commonly include images of the house within the street; front and rear elevations; yard and garden – especially remains of outdoor toilets and washhouses. It may be useful to compare both original building forms and plans, and subsequent modifications, with neighbouring properties: this might be achieved by street or neighbourhood surveys (please contact the project if you would like to consider organising such a scheme).

1930s porcelain pan and cast iron cistern – a change to the earlier ‘ash-pail’ toilets

It is as useful to look at the form of and changes to the outside of the building. For instance, front doors may have been replaced or modified since construction of the house (frequently so in the 1930s: see the cover photo, which shows a typical 1930s replacement). Exterior features may provide clues to previous (or in some cases, present but hidden) features inside the house, and to the changing use of rooms. An example is the scullery, washhouse, or kitchen chimney. Many kitchens, scullery-kitchens, and sculleries were equipped with a small range, or a ‘copper’ (a large pans for heating water, under which fires were lit). As noted above, the functions of these rooms tended to change during the 20th century, therefore these features rarely survive into the modern day.


Above: the difference between the original bricks used to build ‘No. 8’, and those that were used to modify the elevation after the scullery chimney was been removed, demonstrate the position of this feature.

Below: remains of the chimney can be seen in the corner of room above the scullery (right of picture).

Investigations might culminate in the production of a report on the history of the property, with Project Team Members guiding residents in undertaking this task. Such a report may not only be of interest to occupants, but hold the potential to make useful contributions to local studies; for those at school, college, or university, perhaps a report could be incorporated within educational projects (the Project Director may be able to provide guidance on this possibility)? Depending upon the input of residents, reports may include, for instance, accurate historic house plans – even, perhaps, using the evidence found to inform 3D visualisation of how rooms may have looked in the Victorian or Edwardian periods (as might be created using Open-Source software such as Trimble (Google) Sketchup). Photographs, summaries of documentary evidence (such as census information), descriptions of the material traces of everyday action in the past, and comparisons with other buildings, might be combined to create a house ‘biography’ that will enable you to consider the different ways in which previous generations experienced life in your home. 

Other pages on this website present information derived from ongoing building investigations, which may provide an idea of the sort of evidence that is useful to record and analyse (using the site search box to the top right of the screen, enter ‘No. 8’, or click on the ‘No. 8’ tag).


Participants might also be interested in getting involved by sharing their own ideas about discoveries that may be made – what this means to them, regarding their own family history and memories, or (in the cases of older participants) their own pre-WWII experiences. This may enable interpretations to encompass broader understandings of the varied significance of material culture in both the past and present.[5]

PDF Copy of this page to download:


Short version:




[1] Participants and contributors do so on the understanding that they have read and agree to the Terms and Conditions of participation and contribution , or by contacting the project. Also see the privacy and data protection policies page for information.

[2] Much of the high-occupancy and smaller ‘slum’ housing in and around many towns and cities occupied during and after the late 19th century was demolished before the end of the 20th century, but any such remaining housing stock (for example, ‘back-to-back’ housing) is of particular interest to the project.

[3]  For more information on this case study, see the report:

[4] Certainty of the original colours and date (which may often be determined by its chemical composition) of the early paint can only be determined if samples are taken, and microscopic and chemical analysis carried out, as colours often changes over time). However, such investigation is beyond the LIP budget (if householders wished to commission such investigation by a specialist in order to know more about their house history, this may be possible to arrange). Samples from the case study that is presented within this guide have been taken: discoveries made from their subsequent investigation will be presented on this website

[5] If disabilities or incapacities prevent householders from independently carrying out these tasks, but they would like to directly participate, please contact the Project Director to discuss ways of accommodating difficulties.

Leave a Reply